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(China Daily)
Updated: 2009-11-09 07:39

The long, cold, hungry wait for a flight to take off

Since Beijing embraced its first snow in a year last Sunday, I felt sort of relieved and lucky when we were on board at 3 pm after having waited in the lobby for six hours - the flight was set to take off at 11:50 am.

Unexpectedly, the nightmare just began. The passengers were informed the airplanes were waiting in line to have snow on the wings cleared, and 60 airplanes were arranged ahead of ours for departure.

About one hour later, we were told that there were 49 airplanes in front of us. After that, despite the music, the cockpit dropped into radio silence for a couple of hours.

I was wondering if it was the first snow the airport and airline had ever encountered. Did they pay any attention to weather forecasts? Shouldn't more rescue effort get prepared for that?

And, on top of it, the plane had a thin menu; just some small pancakes prepared for regular flights. As night fell, passengers cried for a meal. "Our requirements for food supply were ignored in such a chaotic situation," a hostess said. It wasn't her fault and she had done her best.

Some tired and hungry passengers began to ask if they could get off. A passenger asked to leave as his friend had booked him a train ticket due to depart at 8:30 pm, but his request was refused. At about 8 pm, passengers were permitted to get off the plane.

I tried to change to an earlier flight the next morning, but the hotline was busy for hours on end. When I finally reached them, there was no seat left on the planes that could get to my destination before 2 pm the next day. It meant if I wanted to reach the destination as planned, I had to stick to the earlier flight.

I called the Beijing airport hotline. An operator told me it was the common responsibility of the airline and the airport to clear the snow.

We didn't see any member of the rescue team. We were informed that the flight was cancelled at 1 am in the morning of the second day. By then, the snow on the wings had melted and the grounds were already dry.

It took more than half an hour to wait for the commuter vehicle to get us to the check-in building. After we got there, I found out that my plane was not the only one cancelled.

Nobody instructed us on how to resolve this issue - changing the flight or getting a refund. Nobody provided an explanation, and nobody apologized.

A professor from Europe gave me a hand with my baggage. He said 40 students were waiting for his lecture in Dalian the next morning and it was such a pity he would not be able to get there.

"It is disorganized, and there is no access to information," he said, depressed.

It was said hotel accommodations were arranged for those whose flights had been cancelled, but I just saw hundreds of people gathered at the exit, cold, hungry and waiting for the shuttle bus to take them to the appointed hotel. A lady told me she had waited there for at least two hours. I joined a long line of people waiting for the limited cabs on offer and came back home at 4 am.

Weather shouldn't have been the excuse. Maybe, in the first five or six hours, it could have been, but after that, it showed a lack of management skills.

Even days after the incident I never got a call from the airline. I'm sure it knows my mobile number very well, because, whenever I call to book a ticket, they address me by my surname, even before I speak a word.

At least, we need a transparent explanation. Am I too demanding?

Vera

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(China Daily 11/09/2009 page4)